When utilities deliver natural gas, they must make safety a top priority. Advances in technology, like edge computing’s ability to deliver real-time metering data, make it possible to prevent damage and when damage is unavoidable, decrease the cost of repair and restoration. An active network leverages Internet of Things (IoT) technology to distribute intelligence and analytics capability in field devices to greatly reduce the volume of data that moves through the network and make decisions at the edge. A network of connected meters not only improves safety by allowing utilities to analyze near real-time data needed to protect the utility workforce and consumers, the technology also helps utilities monitor multiple conditions and make decisions to control excess flow, preventing dangerous situations before they happen.
Challenges for Gas Utilities and Service Providers
Factors like natural disasters, aging infrastructure, gas leaks and tampering can lead to dangerous and costly incidents for gas utilities and end customers. Some of these stressors are predictable and relatively easy to fix, but other incidents, like natural disasters, are unpreventable.
Natural disasters – including floods, hurricanes and earthquakes – can cause widespread damage to the gas delivery systems. This damage can affect gas appliances, break supply lines or disrupt gas delivery. These events are impossible to prevent, so gas utilities must be prepared for these situations and be ready to respond quickly.
Factors that can affect the safe delivery of natural gas are issues on the customers’ property, such as theft, open fuel lines and house fires.
Utilities need visibility into their gas distribution networks to mitigate safety concerns during unpredictable events that can leave substantial damage. Setting up an ecosystem of devices on an open, active network helps gas utilities proactively address safety concerns.
The Active Network
An active network helps modern gas utilities respond to issues quickly and address any threats before incidents occur. This is enabled by the computing power on these intelligent devices that uses machine learning to understand when inconsistencies are present and what actions to take, such as shutting off the excess flow of gas – at the edge, in real time – while also communicating the situation synopsis back to the utility. IoT can improve safety by allowing gas utilities to leverage data to make immediate changes in the field as problems arise.
For example, imagine using a device that can detect a gas leak, low pressure or corrosion before the seemingly minor incidents evolve into damaging events. This technology using data from networked sensors has the power to improve reliability, safety and profitability. Gas utilities can capitalize on the potential of connected devices that have the computing power to communicate, measure and solve issues on the network. The decision-making and data analysis happen at the edge of the network, instead of in the utility office.
What to Look for: Intelligence and Ultrasonic Capabilities
Technology moves quickly, and it’s important to understand the must-have features and functionality when evaluating a crowded marketplace of options for intelligent devices. Here’s a quick checklist of what to look for and why:
• Intelligent edge computing is the process in which data is analyzed and aggregated in a location close to where it is captured in the network. Advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) needs to include meters with functionality to effectively sense issues before they turn into catastrophic events.
• Ultrasonic gas meters can act in real-time by harnessing the power of an active network and using flow sensors to detect abnormally high flows or extreme temperatures, which can identify potentially dangerous considerations such as open fuel lines or fires – automatically triggering safety shutoff.
Smart meters improve safety for utility workers, end customers and the community by controlling excess flow at all service points. Gas utilities can proactively shut off gas service temporarily to at-risk areas before trackable natural disasters, like hurricanes and wildfires. By proactively shutting off the gas, utilities can help prevent gas meters and appliances from being displaced as well as prevent dangerous free-flowing gas during safety events. These connected technologies help utilities be more proactive, while also enhancing safety for citizens.
Preventing Future Damage
Gas utilities can confidently and proactively prevent incidents that pose challenges to safety with these intelligent meters. Furthermore, using highly detailed data analytics throughout the gas distribution system makes the pipeline more secure. The active network never stops changing as it adapts to changes that may occur in the gas distribution system. As different challenges arise, additional IoT devices are created to address them.
Safety is a top priority when it comes to distributing natural gas, and smart meter technology gives utilities more visibility into their systems. This saves lives and prevents damages by helping utilities avoid incidents before they happen. An active network can ensure that utilities’ employees and customers are safe, while also limiting waste and conserving natural gas.
Annette Gardiner is vice president of gas strategic development at Itron. Before joining the company, she held several leadership roles in the gas utility industry, including vice president of shared services at Consumers Energy and president of New Mexico Gas Co.